If ESPN wanted a way to distract fans from its new Monday Night Football booth, headlined by Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland, the injection of venom sure did the trick.
Venom is the neon yellow-green color that ESPN has included in all of its NFL productions this year, including Monday Night Football. But viewers had a venomous reaction to it after many were confused by the down-and-distance graphic that was more yellow than the small pop-up signaling a penalty. Surprisingly, the network quickly responded to the reactions, taking the color out of that spot at halftime.
Tess and Boog didn’t need any cover though, ably handling their Week 1 assignment. A former defensive tackle, McFarland’s commentary did focus more on that side of the ball. At times that was a benefit, such as him calling out in near real-time the Texans’ foolish prevent defense on the final drive. At other points it was a drawback, like when McFarland focused on corner P.J. Williams’s role in Houston’s go-ahead touchdown pass. Throughout, the Louisiana native offered plenty of energy and an infectious laugh, with the closest thing to a gaffe coming when McFarland turned to another language, referring to a coverage matchup as mano y mano. After everything the group dealt with last year, they’ll take that.
Tessitore was the bigger surprise overall—in a good way. Like a quarterback in the second year of a system, the play-by-play caller seemed more relaxed Monday. Maybe he’s more comfortable not having to direct as much traffic, or maybe he was told to ease up a bit this season. Either way, it meant Tessitore was much less prone to punctuate a moment with: On. Monday. Night. Football! And when Wil Lutz nailed a career long, game-winning 58-yard field goal, Tessitore largely let the Superdome crowd sell the moment.
Ultimately the thrilling game kept the spotlight on the field rather than the booth, which the broadcast struggled to do last season. More contests like that, starting with Jets-Browns next week, will allow Tessitore and McFarland to further develop some chemistry alongside the recently retired NFL official and new rules analyst John Parry, who was hit-or-miss Monday but figures to have a large role moving forward. The behind-the-camera team will also take time to gel as Jimmy Platt follows Chip Dean’s 18-year run as director.
The second game of Monday’s doubleheader saw Steve Levy draw the assignment of a lifetime, calling the game with Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. “It’s really cool for my family and my close, longtime friends, who always knew this was a dream of mine,” Levy told Newsday’s Neil Best last week. “When people ask, ‘What was the dream job?,’ it was never to do the NHL. It wasn’t. It was always Monday Night Football.”
Despite hosting SportsCenter in the post-Super Bowl slot and calling college bowl games, the 54-year-old anticipated that he’d be nervous for Monday’s Broncos-Raiders matchup. If he was, it rarely came across. Griese, who works college games with Levy and played under Jon Gruden while in Tampa Bay was the perfect analyst for the situation. Louis Riddick, who has been vocal about his desire to call NFL games, also got to show executives why he deserves more opportunities moving forward. On the sideline, rising talent Dianna Russini smoothly filled in with Laura Rutledge now on maternity leave. Russini is expected to pick up XFL duties in 2020 and on Monday she got a good nugget from a Raiders coach who called Antonio Brown “an energy vampire.”
Finally, since you surely came here for my musical opinions, a note on G-Eazy. The most disturbing part of Monday night—more foolish than ESPN’s venomous graphical choices even—wasn’t G-Eazy’s highly sanitized halftime “performance” of 2017 ear crawler No Limit. It was the fact that ESPN had him back for an encore during the night’s second game. Since they hit it two times I guess they like him? Whoever queued up Jay Critch’s “I’m A Star” after a Texans touchdown, on the other hand, needs more say in the halftime performer lineup. Or maybe ESPN needs to bring in Jay-Z too.
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